FLEETING thoughts of a home trifecta at McKittrick Park next week went out the window for South Grafton Rebels fans when the Under-18s were bundled out of the Group 2 competition yesterday.

Defending champions in the junior grade, the Rebels headed into the clash against last year's grand finalists Sawtell Panthers full of confidence to progress to next week's decider against Coffs Harbour, but went down 22 to 12.

First Grade coach Dallas Waters said it was disappointing to watch the Under-18s get eliminated.

"It is very hard to defend your title and knowing there was the possibility of all three grades probably added a bit of pressure," Waters said.

"They tried hard and worked hard for each other, there's no denying that. But they didn't have a great deal of chances and unfortunately took some wrong options at times.

"Sawtell completed well and were able to build some pressure by getting some repeat sets."

It was bittersweet for Waters as he saw one part of the fairytale washed away, but at the same time a guarantee two members of his squad will be fresh for the top grade grand final.

"Certainly, the scenario for us now is we will have Tom and Nick McGrady fresh and that will benefit my side, no doubt," he said.

"They're first graders in their own right and they'll get a chance to add another grand final win after winning the 18s last year."

The Rebels first grade outfit had a full training session at McKittrick Park on Saturday and Waters was pleased with the side's progress towards the grand final.

"We decided given we didn't have a game that we wanted to come together on the weekend and have a team run.

"It obviously doesn't compensate for a game, but it was good and gave us an opportunity to go over what works for us.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm and the boys are in a good mind frame at the moment. The week off will freshen us up and we'll ramp it up in the week."



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